An evening conversation: To err is…

By The Mercury

Everyone makes mistakes.

And yes, no matter how much effort and care we throw into our work, that includes us here at the Mercury.

Despite all the recent advances in technology, the paper ultimately is in the hands of human beings – which means that we aren’t likely to publish several hundred thousand words, numbers, letters, symbols and all the rest without missing something.

Occasionally a goof isn’t even our fault. We simply have to rely on others for some of the information that makes it into print, and if a factual error is submitted, well…all we can do is run a correction.

But occasionally we just plain screw up.

For instance, I misspelled Noel Schulz’s name right here in this column – and yet I KNEW the correct spelling.

How does that happen?

Who knows?

But whatever the reason, that’s not the main issue concerning my muff on Noel’s name.

No, the more important point is that three other very capable people proof-read that column – all of whom know that the correct spelling is Schulz and not Schultz – and yet they ALL missed it.

So are we simply a bunch of buffoons? 

Nope, no matter what funny lines might leap to your mind, we really are reasonably intelligent people. And we desperately want to get things right.

Sure, sometimes we joke about our mistakes.

The late journalist and storyteller Lewis Grizzard, author of hilarious books like “Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself,” worked for many years at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

When a reader would call up to say that the paper reported young Johnny Somebody recovered a fumble in a high school football game —and his name actually should have been spelled Jonny— Grizzard would hear out the complaint and say: “Hey, what do you want for 50 cents?”

(Yeah, everything was cheaper then.)

Grizzard shouldn’t have dismissed any error, but besides having a laugh, he was making a larger point. The tiny percentage of mistakes that make it into print actually is pretty astounding.

And yet that still isn’t good enough. We want to be perfect.

Realistically, it’ll never happen, but I guarantee you that every employee at the Mercury is totally committed to publishing a mistake-free paper.

Maintaining the trust of our readers and our community depends on it.

A young man came to visit the newsroom last week, simply to point out that he’d been named in our “Arrests” section – listed as charged with four drug-related crimes.

We take that information directly from RCPD reports, yet this gentleman insisted that the police had reduced his charges to one simple count of marijuana possession.

Hearing his complaint, our responsibility was to check with the RCPD to see if they had, indeed, dropped three charges. It turned out to be true, so we printed an “Update.”

I’m bringing this up today because I think that, once in awhile, readers suspect we simply shrug off our errors. That we take them for granted.

No, no, no!

Nothing means more to us than accuracy – which is why I’ll sometimes wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

That’s how hard we’re trying.

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